Britain & Europe
Family - HESPERIIDAE
Large Skipper Ochlodes venata,
male, Waterperry Wood, Oxfordshire ©
The Large Skipper, in common with
most members of the sub-family Hesperiinae, feeds in the larval stage on
Adult butterflies in this sub-family frequently adopt a characteristic
resting posture as shown above, with the forewings held at 45
degrees, and the hindwings held almost flat. Another characteristic is the presence of a dark streak of androconia ( pheromone
producing scales ) on the forewings of males, as shown above.
butterfly is distributed across most of Europe, but is absent from northern
Scandinavia, Ireland, much of the southern Iberian peninsula, and most
Mediterranean islands. Beyond Europe it's range extends across temperate Asia as
far as Japan.
There are a vast number of very similar species found throughout the world.
In Britain however the only similar species is the Silver-spotted Skipper, which
can easily be told apart by the presence on the latter of prominent silvery
spots on the underside hindwings.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venata
female, Fermyn wood, Northamptonshire ©
Large Skippers can be found commonly throughout England and
Wales in almost any grassy habitat, but they tend to favour damp but sunny sites such as
woodland glades and rides, humid heaths,
wild meadows and riversides.
Almost all sites are characterised by the presence of bramble
bushes and stands of bracken. Open grasslands are also used but
populations tend to be much lower.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venata male, Wiltshire ©
Large Skipper is single brooded throughout it's range, normally emerging in
mid-late June, and living for about 3 weeks. A small number of individuals
emerge later during July and old faded specimens can often be seen in August.
pale straw coloured dome-shaped egg is laid singly on the underside of grass blades,
typically on cock's foot or false brome. It hatches after about 10 days.
larvae feed on soft lush grasses, favouring cock's foot Dactylis glomerata
on alkaline or neutral soils, and purple moor grass Molinea caerulea
on acid soils. Less frequently used larval foodplants include red fescue Festuca rubra
and false brome Brachypodium sylvaticum.
spends the early stages of it's life within a tube of grass made by joining
together 2 grass blades with strands of silk. It periodically emerges from the
tube to eject it's droppings, which are catapulted some distance by flicking
them with a comb-like device on it's tail.
hibernates within a newly constructed tent of grasses and resumes feeding in
the spring. When fully grown in early May it rests openly on the upperside of grass
blades, but retires to it's grass tube in poor weather. The mature larva is
green and unmarked, with a purplish black head.
chrysalis is dark brown and shiny, with the long detached proboscis case
projecting almost to the tip of the abdomen. It is formed within the larval
shelter, head-upwards, and secured by bristles on the head and cremaster. The
pupal stage lasts about 2 weeks.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venata
male, Glapthorn, Northamptonshire ©
Large Skippers have a rapid whirring flight,
"skipping" from leaf to leaf. The butterflies settle to bask with
wings held in the characteristic position as illustrated,
typically on bramble leaves, bracken, or on the flower-heads or blades of
cocksfoot and other tall grasses.
Males patrol back
and forth across their breeding sites in the late morning on warm
sunny mornings to search for freshly emerged females. If unsuccessful
at this time they switch to a "perch and wait" tactic in the
afternoon. Typically a male will then seek a sheltered, sunny
spot in a woodland glade, a ride intersection, or at the base of a
grassy hillside. There he will sit on a tall grass head or on a leaf of
bracken or bramble. He perches with wings either erect or
in the characteristic Hesperiine posture, and darts up to
intercept every small passing insect.
are challenged aggressively and driven off. During these
territorial sorties the
males buzz frenetically around each other, while flying rapidly in
broad circles, soaring to a height of about 4-5 metres above
ground level. At this point they separate and the "owner" of the
territory returns to it's original perch - or very nearby, while
the intruder moves on to set up a territory elsewhere.
When females are encountered they are chased until they settle,
usually on a
bush or small tree; and copulation follows after a brief courtship
pairs can often be found settled on bramble or buckthorn bushes, bracken
leaves or coarse grasses in the late morning or early afternoon. When copulated both insects
keep their wings either closed or held very slightly apart,
and are reluctant to fly, but will do so if disturbed.
At grassland sites the butterflies nectar at bird's foot trefoil,
clovers and vetches, but in woodlands they particularly favour
bramble blossom and thistles. On heathlands the most common nectar
sources are cross-leaved heath and bell heather.
territorial male perching on grass head, Ballard Down, Dorset ©